CBS appeared to have the field to itself when the network leaped into developing a miniseries about the life of the late John Paul II within days of his funeral this spring. But given the extraordinary appeal of the Pope's story, maybe the latest news on the papal miniseries front was inevitable: Now ABC is rushing a rival production into the works. And it appears that the network has already made up the ground it lost by letting CBS make the first move. ABC already has a script ready to go and is set to start shooting later this month. That could mean the finished project would be ready to air as early as the November sweeps. CBS, which has not scheduled a start date for its production, will have to hustle to keep up.

The friction involved in competing projects extends beyond the network level: Key members in both production teams once worked together on the miniseries Jesus, which aired on CBS in 2000. Ettore Bernabei, president of Italian production company Lux Vide, is driving the CBS Pope project, while Jesus executive producers Lorenzo Minoli and Judd Parkin are working with ABC. Unlike the scene at the Vatican a few weeks ago, the smoke rising from this competition won't have anyone cheering.

Copps' Plea: Lobby FCC

Michael Copps would like to land another five-year term as an FCC commissioner after his tenure formally expires June 30. The Democrat requires renomination by President Bush and confirmation by the Senate if he's going to remain at the FCC—and given that the president hasn't announced his intentions, you'd think Copps would observe the Washington tradition of keeping his head down to avoid ticking off anyone who might be able to poison his chances. But Copps has never been known as a shy and unassuming commissioner, and apparently he doesn't intend to become one now.

In a speech before anti-media consolidation activists at the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis in mid May, Copps urged them to mount a grassroots campaign when the FCC tries to rewrite broadcast-ownership deregulation thrown out by federal judges last summer.

“Those awful rules that an FCC majority passed two years ago to loosen our media protections have been sent back to us by the courts. That's the good news,” Copps told the crowd. “The bad news is, they were sent back to whom? To the very same folks who dreamed them up in the first place. They screwed it up once. Believe me, they're 100% capable of screwing it up again.”

Do these “folks” include FCC Chairman Kevin Martin? The same Kevin Martin who was a Bush campaign aide and who remains tight with the White House that holds Copps' renomination in its hands?

Er, apparently not. We asked Copps' office for a clarification and were told that the boss was “referring to the FCC as an institution and certainly not to the chairman.” Then, as aides will, they told us the “real story” to report is “the close working relationship between the chairman”—Martin—“and the senior FCC Democrat”—Copps—“for the first time in years.”

'Idol' Maker's Comedy Itch

The man behind American Idol, TV's most popular unscripted show, says comedy and variety are the genres to watch in 2006. And Idol creator Simon Fuller says he's anxious to get in on the action.

“Absolutely,” he says. “The opportunity is there for someone to re-figure out prime time comedy. If I can find the right way to do it, I'm right there.”

Fuller also says he thinks that the variety show is poised for a comeback and could be “the new thing in 2006.” But, he says, there is a caveat. “You need a big star pegged to it. Actually, to really work, it needs to be multiple stars. And that's the biggest dilemma. You really must have big stars attached to it from the start, because that's what the networks need, since they are so insecure right now.”

Not that he's chucking in the whole Idol business to start recruiting stars for a variety show or hiring sitcom writers. The dance version of Idol on Fox, called So You Think You Can Dance, premieres July 20.

We're counting the minutes until the first craven contestant sucks up to the judges by doing an interpretive fox trot.